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What You Must Know About Northwest Natural Gas Company’s (NYSE:NWN) Return on Equity

Blake Harford

Northwest Natural Gas Company’s (NYSE:NWN) most recent return on equity was a substandard 7.42% relative to its industry performance of 11.75% over the past year. NWN’s results could indicate a relatively inefficient operation to its peers, and while this may be the case, it is important to understand what ROE is made up of and how it should be interpreted. Knowing these components could change your view on NWN’s performance. Metrics such as financial leverage can impact the level of ROE which in turn can affect the sustainability of NWN’s returns. Let me show you what I mean by this. See our latest analysis for Northwest Natural Gas

Breaking down Return on Equity

Return on Equity (ROE) is a measure of Northwest Natural Gas’s profit relative to its shareholders’ equity. For example, if the company invests $1 in the form of equity, it will generate $0.07 in earnings from this. Generally speaking, a higher ROE is preferred; however, there are other factors we must also consider before making any conclusions.

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders Equity

Returns are usually compared to costs to measure the efficiency of capital. Northwest Natural Gas’s cost of equity is 9.08%. Given a discrepancy of -1.66% between return and cost, this indicated that Northwest Natural Gas may be paying more for its capital than what it’s generating in return. ROE can be broken down into three different ratios: net profit margin, asset turnover, and financial leverage. This is called the Dupont Formula:

Dupont Formula

ROE = profit margin × asset turnover × financial leverage

ROE = (annual net profit ÷ sales) × (sales ÷ assets) × (assets ÷ shareholders’ equity)

ROE = annual net profit ÷ shareholders’ equity

NYSE:NWN Last Perf Feb 23rd 18

The first component is profit margin, which measures how much of sales is retained after the company pays for all its expenses. Asset turnover reveals how much revenue can be generated from Northwest Natural Gas’s asset base. Finally, financial leverage will be our main focus today. It shows how much of assets are funded by equity and can show how sustainable the company’s capital structure is. Since ROE can be artificially increased through excessive borrowing, we should check Northwest Natural Gas’s historic debt-to-equity ratio. Currently the debt-to-equity ratio stands at a balanced 92.06%, which means its ROE is driven by its ability to grow its profit without a significant debt burden.

NYSE:NWN Historical Debt Feb 23rd 18

Next Steps:

ROE is one of many ratios which meaningfully dissects financial statements, which illustrates the quality of a company. Northwest Natural Gas’s ROE is underwhelming relative to the industry average, and its returns were also not strong enough to cover its own cost of equity. Although, its appropriate level of leverage means investors can be more confident in the sustainability of Northwest Natural Gas’s return with a possible increase should the company decide to increase its debt levels. ROE is a helpful signal, but it is definitely not sufficient on its own to make an investment decision.

For Northwest Natural Gas, there are three fundamental aspects you should look at:


To help readers see pass the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned.